Some might say James Goodall and Harry Greer have a soft spot for frogs -- and they'd likely agree with that. In fact, it could be said that the relationship between the two men and the dozens of endangered frogs they helped raise is a bit like that of a parent and child -- and they'd probably agree with that as well. "We baby them like little kids," says Goodall. "They've got personalities, too, it seems like."
But the setting for this uncommon bond isn't where you might expect; Goodall and Greer aren't biologists or wildlife experts, after all. The two men are inmates at a prison in Washington State -- and they're serving more than just a sentence.Within the walls of Cedar Creek Correctional Facility in Littlerock, Washington lies a special nursery for Oregon spotted frogs, a place inmates call "Frogga Walla." It is here where Goodall and Greer hand-rear the endangered amphibians for nine hours a day, readying them to be released into the wild.
For Goodall, who's doing time for drug possession, and Greer, a convicted robber, the lessons in patience and gentility they learned from their time helping to save a species are ones they'll never forget -- and that might be the greatest benefit of a program which has inmates getting in touch with nature, that is, if they weren't so good at raising frogs.
"People may not think prisons are the right place for this type of environmental work, but it's the ideal place," Department of Corrections spokesperson Chad Lewis told The Olympian. "We have folks with plenty of time in a controlled environment. That's what you need."
Oregon spotted frogs have been classified as an endangered species in Washington since 1997, but conservationists have stepped-up to protect them. In the last few years, they've implemented such novel programs like the one at Cedar Creek which aim to give the frogs a 'head start' at survival.
Similar frog-rearing groups are also working to save the amphibians, and it's been a boon to their numbers. Just last September, volunteers set loose 1,346 of the spotted frogs into the local ecosystem. Around half the animals were fitted with tiny tracking devices to help researchers monitor their movement.
After hand-raising the endangered frogs for so long, setting them free in the big, wild world must be a bitter-sweet experience for Goodall and Greer -- particularly as it's a freedom they will have to wait a while to taste themselves. I suspect, however, that when the pair think on those fragile creatures with which they'd grown so close and then let free, for a moment their binds are broken, too.